Listen in on Moving the Needle 2018

Jun 11, 2018 by Ian Lathrop Comments (0)

On Friday, June 15, USAID is hosting a one-day event to convene decision makers, thought leaders, donors and implementers around how to leverage systematic, intentional and resourced collaborating, learning and adapting to support the journey to self-reliance. 

While in-person participation is by invitation only and already full, you are invited to listen in! Click here to watch the live stream between 9:00 AM - 10:30 AM EDT and 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM EDT.

Here’s what you’ll see during the morning session:

  • 9:00 AM - Welcome Remarks, Piers Bocock, USAID LEARN
  • 9:20 AM - Spotlight on Time to Listen: Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid, Polly Byers, Executive Director, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects
  • 9:35 AM - Interactive Reflection Exercise
  • 9:50 AM - USAID Welcome, Susan Fine, Acting Assistant to the Administrator, USAID/PPL
  • 10:00 AM - Keynote Address, USAID Leadership

And in the afternoon:

  • 3:00-4:30 PM - Multi-Donor Panel on Organizational Learning for Development Impact Self-Reliance with representatives from the UK’s Department for International Development, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and UNICEF

You can also follow the event on Twitter using #MTN18.


Featured User: Addi Qatamin

Jul 19, 2017 by Ian Lathrop Comments (0)

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Like collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA), USAID Learning Lab is community-driven. In our broader efforts to highlight this community-driven approach, I recently spoke with Addi Qatamin, a Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) Specialist at Management Systems International (MSI) working with USAID/Jordan, to learn what matters to him regarding CLA and the USAID Learning Lab community.

Why does learning matter to you?

Having steadily cultivated a career in M&E and given my extensive work in the international development field with the UN as well as USAID funded projects, I have developed a passionate interest in continuous learning which I believe is becoming more crucial given the ever-increasing rate of accumulated knowledge as it is estimated in a recent study; that knowledge doubles every 12 months. This has further spurred my interest in playing an active role— however small—, and one thing I learned is that professional growth involves being in a constant state of readiness and willingness to incorporate opportunities and experiences as they come along and learning ensures you will never get stuck in knowledge silos and enables you to strengthen your weaker areas while also developing your strengths and ongoing professional development is the only way to ensure that you are competent and skillful in your role.

Why do you use USAID Learning Lab?

As partners establish and consolidate relationships with each other, they draw upon knowledge embedded in those relationships and Learning Lab gives me the opportunity to access new knowledge and know-how beyond my organization’s boundaries, making it simple to internalize newly proven tools. Moreover, following a CLA facilitation course I have taken recently, I have made it my personal mission to familiarize myself and stay up-to-date with all the practical applications posted on Learning Lab. I firmly believe that CLA will expand its reach and as a result will significantly enrich the way organizations approach planning and M&E.

How does USAID Learning Lab help you in your work?

Unlike most projects/activities, we play a technical advisory and cross-cutting role and that requires us to be one-step ahead at all times so we are in a better position to provide up-to-date support to our partners. A part of our mandate is to provide broad and targeted capacity building efforts to our partners through several approaches (including training, coaching, document reviews, etc.) and having access to an ever-expanding treasure trove of toolkits comes in handy quite often for this function.

Additionally, realizing that organizations do not develop naturally into learning organizations, I use Learning Lab to look for the latest tools and trends that I can utilize to facilitate our continued effort in transforming into one; and making use of what Learning Lab has to offer, our organization can concentrate its efforts on investing in promoting a culture of learning and knowledge sharing. So far, the tools we utilized have helped us understand that within a learning organization, collective knowledge is gathered; and because of the synergy formed, is greater than the sum of each individual’s knowledge.

USAID Learning Lab would be nothing without its users. If you’re interested in being a “Featured User” let us know! Send us an email at 

Announcing the CLA Toolkit!

Jun 7, 2017 by Ian Lathrop Comments (0)

USAID Learning Lab is pleased to announce the all-new CLA Toolkit! In it, you’ll find resources you can use to plan and implement key USAID Program Cycle activities related to collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA).

What's in it?

The toolkit contains a growing set of curated tools, examples and other resources. You’ll find templates for CLA Plans, learning agendas, and performance management plans (PMP); guidance on mid-course CDCS stocktaking, communities of practice, and collaboration mapping; and much more! The content, which is searchable by the USAID Program Cycle and CLA Framework, is still being developed and the toolkit will be updated regularly. 

Do you have a tool or resource that you use to implement CLA? Share it with us!

Why now?

USAID has shown a growing commitment to integrating CLA into its development work. For example, the ADS 201 Program Cycle Guidance was revised in September 2016 to make more CLA approaches mandatory for USAID missions. As interest in CLA has grown among USAID staff and implementing partners, USAID's Bureau Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL) developed this toolkit to be an evolving repository of information tools and resources. The CLA Toolkit, together with the Monitoring Toolkit and the Evaluation Toolkit offer a suite of resources to help you implement your programs through the USAID Program Cycle. 

The CLA Toolkit resources are also available on ProgramNet for USAID staff.

Using Open-Space for Strategy Development in Indonesia

Feb 29, 2016 by Ian Lathrop Comments (0)

In 2012, USAID/Indonesia began developing its current Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) in an environment of uncertainty and opportunity. The Government of Indonesia was entering a transition period, and the USAID Mission had three mission directors in three years and was awaiting a fourth with  a slew of new staff coming onboard. With this backdrop, the CDCS team, led by Nancy Fisher-Gormley from the Program Office, set out to create a comprehensive strategy to address a very diverse set of needs and viewpoints. But to do that, they would need to convene a wide variety of stakeholders throughout the country in way that had been unprecedented for the mission.

Given these circumstances, the team decided to make the strategy development process a participatory learning experience. Through a simple Google search for ideas for convening large groups, Nancy discovered open-space technology. Open-space is a simple way to host a meeting or event, where “participants create and manage their own agenda or parallel working sessions around a central theme.” This methodology can be used with groups of 5 to 2000+ people who work in one-day workshops, three-day conferences, or regular weekly staff meetings. Open-space meetings are most effective for complex gatherings with a very diverse set of ideas. They work to connect and strengthen the planning, learning, participation, and performance already happening within an organization.

USAID/Indonesia hired a local open-space facilitator for six months to convene meetings in Jakarta and 9 other locations throughout the country. Watch this video to learn more about how they did it and what they achieved.

Filed Under: CLA in Action

Introducing an improved Ask & Answer!

Jan 28, 2016 by Ian Lathrop Comments (0)

Have you ever wondered how other organizations capture knowledge? Or what it takes to build a learning network? Or how to budget for a Learning Advisor?

As development practitioners, we often have questions without a single easy answer. One question usually leads to a deeper conversation, with inputs from different perspectives, stakeholders, and technical areas.  We do not, however, always have the opportunity to have these conversations in person or in real time.  

To address this issue, we are introducing a new Ask & Answer feature on Learning Lab, designed for user-driven content and discussion among Learning Lab members, USAID staff, and other international development professionals. Here, you can share knowledge and experiences, post questions related to the USAID Program Cycle, and engage with USAID staff and implementing partners. Ask & Answer is a moderated space for the community to exchange knowledge about implementing collaborating, learning, and adapting approaches in international development. 

Over the coming months, we’ll be highlighting Ask & Answer and we encourage you to participate! Have a question? Post it here!


Capturing and Sharing through Digital Storytelling

Mar 24, 2015 by Ian Lathrop Comments (0)

Since the dawn of time humans have been telling stories. Our ancestors used cave paintings, ancient oratory, dramatic theatre, and even interpretive dance to communicate with the world around them. Stories allow us to make sense of our family history, laugh at current events, and dream about the future. They pass on lessons learned from our past. And they cultivate a community of shared experiences and shared identities. Paul Zak explains in the Harvard Business Review that there are even neurobiological reasons why we love stories saying, “As social creatures, we depend on others for our survival and happiness.”

In early March, the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project hosted a webinar on utilizing digital storytelling techniques for health communication campaigns. The project team highlighted that tools of the digital age have allowed storytellers to adapt to specific contexts and audiences. For example, when describing family planning conditions in Islamabad, you can’t bring a woman from Pakistan with you every time you tell the story, but you can bring a video of her telling it. 

As professional knowledge sharers, it’s easy for us to lose sight of the human elements when the bulk of our work involves technical jargon and abstract concepts. In the development sphere, personal stories are more than entertainment. They are educational and provide cultural context, explain why we, as a society, exist, how we survive disease, and how we adapt to challenges. In the digital age, we can communicate across a variety of platforms to reach many cultures. These platforms include maps, videos, pictures, drawings, and podcasts.

Within the context of learning, storytelling is a way to capture and translate knowledge. At USAID/LEARN, a new mechanism out of USAID’s Learning, Evaluation, and Research (LER) Office in the Bureau of Policy, Planning, and Learning (PPL), we support strategic learning and knowledge management at USAID to improve the effectiveness of programs in achieving sustainable development outcomes. Storytelling is a significant component of learning. We need to share stories of success, failure, and contextual adaptation in order to benefit from those experiences in the future. USAID Learning Lab offers many resources on how storytelling can support knowledge capture and translation, including tools, cases, lessons learned, promising practices, and more. In addition, below are several additional resources shared at K4Health’s Digital Storytelling Webinar.

Do you have a storytelling resource or case to share? Be sure to post it in the comments below!

Storytelling Resources

One Mobile Projector per Trainer (OMPT), a California-based organization works to educate the world’s poorest billion with low-cost video technology. They work closely with local development organizations around the world, conducting 3-day video education workshops. These workshops not only provide the latest training in the health sector and other disciplines, they also equip teams on the ground with a camera kit, a projector, and a recharging kit and the skills to capture and promote local stories. To spread the word, they rely on the “sneaker-net,” an informal network of individuals who put their videos on SD cards and walk from village to village sharing stories.

Esri, another California-based organization uses a geographic information system (GIS) to collect and map stories through their interactive Story Maps. Story Maps are simple web apps that combine interactive maps, multimedia content, and user experience. 

Story Maps, which are hosted in the Esri cloud, are free, open-source web apps that combine interactive maps, multimedia content, and user experiences into comprehensive maps that can be downloaded. There are two kinds of sequential, place-based narratives: Story Map Tour and Story Map Journal. The Story Map Tour presents geo-tagged photos or videos in a narrative with good visuals and minimal text. This app is presented much like a photo gallery that allows readers to follow the narrative in a compelling, visual way. Story Map Journals serve as an in-depth diary that can accommodate a richer mix of multimedia content and more text. 

Silence Speaks, an organization that fosters healing, solidarity, and training and advocacy for human rights through intensive, hands-on participatory media workshops, works to use personal narratives and participatory media as tools for social and behavior change communication. In her presentation, Amy Hill, the co-Founder and current Director of the organization discussed the importance of first-person stories. Personal stories are intimate and universal forms of communication. They provide a “unique blend of first-person voice and participatory media.” Unlike impersonal, third-person accounts, which are less vivid and often statistical, first-person stories are honest and relatable. When people see and hear other people like themselves, they feel support and, hopefully, motivated to change their behavior in life. In her post, “Why You Need to Use Storytelling for Learning,” Connie Malamed points out that stories give meaning to data. In order for data to have value, it must be used to inform. Data comes alive when it is placed within the context of a story. 

The organization also uses community-based participatory media to foster a collaborative environment to support the telling of stories that often remain unspoken and unheard. This kind of setting gathers diverse perspectives that are shaped by the voices of many rather than “expert” professionals to democratize the storytelling process instead of isolating subjects in individual interviews. The program demystifies the media production process by introducing the mechanics of how media is produced and offering concrete skills to participants.

Additional Resources

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